February 21st 2014

Bumblebee feeding on Winter Honeysuckle

A Queen Bumblebee feeding on Winter Honeysuckle

Today I managed to photograph a Bumblebee feeding on the Winter-flowering Honeysuckle. It is well-dusted with pollen! They are quite hard to identify, as colours can fade over winter. I think this one is a Buff-tailed Bumblebee (correct me if I’m wrong), one of the species that emerge on mild winter days. It has to be a Queen Bee. The last brood of Bumblebees in the year produce several queens which will mate and then be the only Bumblebees to survive to the next year, hibernating by lowering their metabolism. Conditions: Sunny intervals and showers, with a gusty SW wind. Temperature: Max 7 – Min 4c

February 20th 2014

Red Admiral

Red Admiral

Only yesterday, I mentioned the value of winter-flowering plants for insects and today the sun brought out a Bumblebee and a Red Admiral. Butterflies mostly overwinter as eggs, larvae or pupae (chrysalis) but a few British butterflies can hibernate as adults. These include Peacocks, Brimstones and Red Admirals. They shelter in tree-hollows, houses and sheds, only emerging on sunny days of at least 10c. Even this is risky- they can die if the temperature falls before they can find shelter again. Keep looking- with global warming, there are more sightings of adult Butterflies in winter. The other great sight, a favourite for me, was our first Primrose, full out in the sun. Conditions: Sunny intervals, showers after a drizzly start. Temp: Max 10 – Min 5c

First garden Primrose of the year

First garden Primrose of the year

February 19th 2014

Winter-flowering Honeysuckle

Winter-flowering Honeysuckle

The Winter Flowering Honeysuckle (Lonicera Fragrantissima) forms a bit of a spronky, laxIMG_5580 bush with smaller flowers than later honeysuckles. It’s citrus scent is wonderful and carries a long way on the air. Like other winter flowering, scented shrubs it is also an invaluable source of nectar for any Bumblebees and Honeybees that emerge during mild spells at this time of the year. It tolerates quite hard cutting back if you don’t have much space. Walking the Don from Neepsend to Lady’s Bridge  (it flowed surprisingly quietly) the kingfisher didn’t turn up today but there were Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits, Moorhens and Mallards galore, a Wren exploring the banks and a beautiful Grey Wagtail, feeding along the water’s edge.             Conditions: A still, dry day with sunny intervals. Temperature: Max: 10 – Min 8c

February 18th 2014

Nuthatch

Nuthatch

Back from saturated Sussex, via a circuitous rail route, due to several landslips on the line, and the beautiful Nuthatch turns up after weeks of absence from the garden. Such a lovely bird, it stays near it’s birthplace and lives for 11 years, on average. The males have extra reddish-brown marks just under their wing. Some people think the black stripe makes them look like bandits. Their strong beaks prise insects from the bark of trees. Unlike woodpeckers and treecreepers, nuthatches climb down as well as up trees while feeding. Their calls are very distinctive and have been described as repeated ‘tuit, tuit’ and ‘pee, pee’ (Listen on the RSPB site!)  

p.birds.10 054 Conditions: Dry and still with sunny intervals. Temperature: Max: 9- Min 5c. I was interested in how the floods this year compare to the summer floods of 2007, which saw the wettest May-July since records began in 1766, and were so devastating to many communities, including those along the River Don, which broke it’s banks on 25th June. That year 48,461 homes and 6,896 businesses were flooded compared to this years’ of 5,800 homes and businesses (so far).

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February 11th 2014

Harlequin Ladybirds

Harlequin Ladybirds,  in a small hibernating group in the house.

Harlequin Ladybird , showing their definitive brown legs.

Harlequin Ladybird , showing their definitive brown legs.

This little group of Harlequin Ladybirds (so named because of their very varied patterns, from 0 to 22 spots, and different colours) remind me of wind-up toys.  They were introduced by farmers to Europe and North America as a pest control for aphids, and are now spreading widely through the country. They communicate using pheromones, enabling them to aggregate into (often large) groups, when hibernating in crevices inside buildings.  Harlequins are more toxic than native species and are voracious predators, not just on aphids but on native Ladybirds, butterfly eggs, caterpillars etc.This makes them a real threat to a range of insects. They are bigger than native Ladybirds, but the definitive way of identifying them is by their brown legs and undersides. If you want to help identify their spread and impact on native species, go to http://www.ladybird-survey.org . In their favour, they are being studied as a possible source of anti-bacterial medicines! Conditions: Sun, snow and rain. Temperature: Max 6- Min2c.  Alongside the devastation of the floods, the recent storms have revealed some wonderful new archaeology, including 4,000 year old (Bronze Age) footprints on a beach in The Gower Peninsular and 10,000 year old remains of a forest, once used by hunter-gatherers, on the coast at Newgale in Pembrokeshire. Even more unusual is the recently announced find, made last spring, of 800,000 year-old footsteps of a family group, on the beach at Happisburgh, North Norfolk, in mud revealed for a few days by heavy storms.  The only older human footprints known to date are in Africa. A long post today but now there’ll be a break- in the immortal words of Eccles: ‘Everyone’s got to be somewhere’ but for me, for a few days, it won’t be in the garden!

February 10th 2014

A Jay showing it's brilliant blue wing flash and black moustache

A Jay showing it’s brilliant blue wing-flash and black moustache

The hard frost brought many birds to the garden early today, including two Jays. Jays can still be legally controlled due to their habit of eating the eggs of game-birds. However, they are making a come-back and are now more widely distributed than in the 19th Century. They can be seen more frequently in gardens, coming for peanuts, especially early in the morning. More birds are displaying too. Robins are puffing out their red breasts to warn other males off their territory and Dunnock are busy wing-flicking to defend their territories (more on the dunnocks unusual mating behaviour in future posts!). In the sun, crocuses have been opening for a few daysIMG_5493 Conditions: A still, dry day with sunny intervals that burnt off the hard frost and melted the ponds. Temperature: Max 5- Min 2c

February 9th 2014

The Robin

The Robin

We’ve had three Robins in the garden lately. One of our most widespread birds, there are an estimated 5.5 million pairs of Robins in Britain. Their success is partly due to their wide-ranging diet (insects, fruit and seeds), and partly because they have 3 or more broods a year. They defend their territory all year which is why they are one of our only species that sing all year round. Males and females are very similar- best way to tell ‘who is who’ at this time of year is behaviour. Males will display aggressively to each other, to hold a territory- they usually just sing and take an aggressive stance but they have, rarely, been known to fight to death. Conditions: A dry day with sunny intervals and gentle south-westerly breeze, light rain showers and rain coming overnight.The Met Office Chief Scientist, Julia Slingo, commenting on the extreme weather this winter, said “A warmer world will lead to more intense daily and hourly rain events”. Temperature: Max 7 – Min 1c.